TALES OF THE COUNTRY
by Brian Viner adapted by Nick Warburton.
Pleasance Theatre Carpenters Mews North Road N7 9EF To 16 May 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7609 1800.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 May.
From Crouch End to the countryside and almost back again.
Silly Brian Viner thought moving to the country from North London would be such a good life-style decision. At least he could write a national newspaper column about the move; his wife Jane gave up her BBC job. But, when he met them, readers from the area were rarely complimentary, and not always comprehensible. While the locals drinking down the local had a taciturnity of epic intensity.
You have to laugh at yourself as the outsider in a Herefordshire where mice and moles (not to mention Ludlow-based Pentabus Theatre, who end their rural tour with a nod to north London) are more at home than a couple of Crouch End refugees.
Brian’s cheerful attempts at integration are balanced by Jane’s despairing moments in Nick Warburton’s script, skilfully concocted from Viner’s columns and book. Yet, as she says, she’s the one who makes things happen, as she does in the frame for the play’s various incidents – their White Elephant stall at the village fête. Things start with Brian’s failure to put the stall together, by the end it’s up and fully-stocked.
Intermixed humour and frustration, the sudden craving for real friends or yearning for a cappuccino – actors’ voices create a symphonically gurgling coffee-machine – provide the background to cameos of a surly shopkeeper, unreasonable paying guests and the stolid unhelpful helpfulness summed up in Owen.
Sean Carlsen gives his composite local a perfect stone-faced lack of expression, while Claire Vousden floats or marches in with assurance or truculence as various Herefordshire people.
With Iain Ridley’s sharp cameos as Viner offspring and various adults, space is left for more rounded portraits of the hopeful, troubled Viners by Matthew Bates and Sarah Stanley. Orla O’Loughlin’s production maintains a continuity that helps make a whole from the episodic source.
It could be said, at the Pleasance, the inventive staging isn’t cutting-edge, and that the piece was best-seen on its rural tour, where the Countryside Alliance march or the produce auction, and the local characters, would connect more naturally with audiences. Better not though; that’d be taken as typical patronising by an incoming twazzock.
Brian Viner: Matthew Bates.
Jane Viner: Sarah Stanley.
Owen: Sean Carlsen.
Capable Woman: Claire Vousden.
The Children: Iain Ridley.
Director: Orla O’Loughlin.
Designer/Costume: James Humphrey.
Lighting: Alex Wardle.
Music: Benet Walsh.
Associate director: Kate Budgen.